So you've read the first impressions here. This Beginner's Guide walks you through each of the three new maps, pointing out scenery of note, general level structure and the odd tip that could possibly stem the inevitable early shame of being owned by someone with a gamer tag such as Wank Static. Or Girls Gun Wild. Think of this as a Rough Guide travel journal, relayed by Louis Theurox running around like a headless chicken in an intergalactic warzone.
Before you enter the game you should know the following things. You can pick your language, prioritise players with a good connection speed and also 'veto' any levels - a majority veto from active players will lead to a new map and game type being offered. 3 ranked playlists are available: Rumble Pit, Team Slayer and Team Skirmish. In the 'Social Playlist' Rumble Training and Team Training are available. So, in theory, you can avoid playing with TexasGunSlinga who is abusive, has a shit connection and loves playing the really, really simple map that no one else likes. For the record (and the lawyers), TexasGunSlinga doesn't really exist - we made him up, see?
In case you didn't know, you'll need to use Crackdown as a beta key on 16th May to download the beta which weighs in at 916 Meg. In the meantime, ready yourself for the carnage and enjoy...
This will be the most familiar map for existing players of Halo 2. High Ground is a sun scorched tropical retreat which features concrete bunkers, metal gates and curious military base style objects. The most hectic and most complex of the maps in the beta, High Ground is basically a chance to snipe through bunker windows or camp on top of them as you get higher and higher. The gates can be blasted open and there a good amount of boxes and barrels to be blasted and sent tumbling towards rivals. The object that aroused our tingling investigate tendrils most, however, is a gated giant launching device. The three vacant holes in the launcher which points skywards look like something that a Bond villain might have on his Christmas wish-list. Sadly, it's not active, with only the 'Guidance Control' label on the side of the structure suggesting that it could (maybe) launch planet destroying rockets in the single player game. There's ragged camo sheets covering the higher concrete bases , along with gun turrets and a small tunnel system which can be used as a hiding place. The tunnel itself looks suspiciously like a missile loading rig to us, given our in-depth military knowledge gained by watching Under Siege at least three times. Importantly, once you get in the tunnel, it's possible to camp and throw grenades towards the entrance like a territorial SAS mole, detonating anyone who dares poke their snout in.
So far, so Goldeneye. There's even a radio and laptop on a random desk and all manner of barrels labeled with toxic stickers. Again, we'll happily speculate that this points towards massive chemical/nuclear war in the single player game. The first thing you'll notice while admiring the gorgeous yet familiar scenery is the presence of Mongoose jeeps (a two seater recon vehicle with no weapons, unlike the Warthog from the previous games) by the coastal end of the map, useful for Skirmish and Team Slayer modes. With the sheer amount of hazardous stickers on everything and plentiful jeeps, we're guessing that nobody's really considered the carbon footprint agenda here. This is confirmed when you get to the top of High Ground and look down upon rivals like ants. The view is stunning but there's something here that uses more electricity than the frickin' Death Star. It's called the Spartan Laser and it flickers a red beam of light towards a target before causing an explosion that goes off the Richter scale. If you see a little red beam, it's not a lens flare effect, it's early notification of your impending death which will occur 00.21 seconds later.
This is a simple, open plan map based around a core above ground base which you will have already seen in the the preview videos. You know, it's got a nice shimmery golden snakeskin patio bit. There's further bunkers which are buried in the snow and a tunnel system which links them. Look closely, and you'll see freakish purple tubes protruding from the snow, linking the bases. A good tactic is to hide near the distant exits to the tunnel systems. Players have a choice of heading back into the tunnel, starting a long over-ground walk back to the middle of the map or investigating an alien gun turret. If you choose to do that latter, you'll be shot. Yes, they're pretty pieces of alien hardware but they act as automatic sentry guns designed to keep you in the confines of the beta map. It's better than hitting an invisible wall, we guess but quite a shock when the vacant turret bleeps, powers up and then executes you on the spot. The bunkers themselves have shields at the entrances, which means you'll be free of chancers lobbing grenades into the small hideouts. Get into a bunker and you'll be free to do a lap of the tunnels, picking up weapons, shields and grenades before emerging out of the snow like some super-powered polar meerkat.
The massive landscape means that Ghost vehicles are a handy way of getting around but, like Halo 2, they have all the pros and cons of making yourself a flying target, yet the firepower is just about worth it. The flat nature of the level makes hit and run incidents frequent too, but don't expect to own a Ghost for any length of time given the huge supply of grenades.
The final point of interest in Snowbound is a rather large purple ball in one of the bunkers. It's a bit like the flying ball that Luke Skywalker has to try and hit when he's being taught how to use a light saber. Combined with the very Giger esque interior decoration, we'd sum up the Snowbound map by saying it's a little bit Alien, a bit Star Wars and best used as an open-plan training ground before entering the other maps. Think of it as a supermarket car park, best used for learning how to drive a car before you take a driving test but a bit boring once you know what all the pedals and buttons do.
This is the place for fun. Best described as a tropical leisure park stormed by alien terrorists. There's nice green land, sea and lots of pretty rivers joining the top and bottom of the map. At either end, however, lurk giant bases full of the kind of firepower, sniper hide-outs and jeeps that professional Halo gamers will love. The best trick is to pick up a Warthog jeep from one of the bases and drive it off the top of a base, using a blue gravity boost to shoot you (and jeep and passenger) into orbit. You'll have a good three seconds to look at the war below and another second to try and squash someone by landing on them. The pay off, off course, is that you land bang in the middle of a shootout and risk getting slaughtered in the cross-fire. You'll die, respawn and get another jeep for another go like an excited American infant, running and wobbling towards the Orlando waterslide with his rubber ring.
Hardcore Halo fans will like the long distance nature of the level - you can see (and snipe) the enemy base from your base and the Spartan Laser can turn the whole map into an ultra violent lightshow that Muse would be jealous of. The water effects are gorgeous. You'll stand still, shooting the waves and just as you begin to recall what the water in Halo 2 looked like, you'll hear someone breathing and then the familiar 'oorfffffffffh!' as you get beaten down by someone much better than you. Practice early and you'll be the one doing the heavy breathing. On seconds thoughts, you better start practicing that heavy breathing too - we think Darth Vader does it best, closely followed by that nasty bloke in Scream.